Zeitgeist

A Night at the Opera

October 01, 2016

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Norma by Vincenzo Bellini - original cast

But this was nothing compared with the opening of the second act, in which Norma, dressed in a trouser suit, thinks of killing her and Pollione’s children (“€œIf I can”€™t have them, no one else will,”€ a common sentiment as a prelude to murder). The children are asleep in a modern bedroom, furnished in sub-Ikea style, with a large video screen playing a cartoon version of Watership Down in the corner, as if a coloratura with a big knife thinking of cutting her children’s throats were insufficiently dramatic fully to occupy the capacious minds of the audience. We seem to have turned inside out Napoleon’s famous dictum that a man who does two things at once does neither: Nowadays, a man who does only one thing does nothing.

After the sub-Ikea bedroom, complete with a large red balloon with a silly face painted on it upon which one of the children, having woken up, bounces around the room while his mother agonizes over her situation, we return to the fascist Gauls, who for some reason are now crawling through a forest not of trees but of crucifixes, pistols, and machine guns at the ready.

I waited patiently for the orgy to come, but in the end was disappointed. The nearest we got to it was the soprano, Norma, kicking the tenor, Pollione, dressed in the bad suit of a commercial traveler, in the genitals. It is true that he was a cad, but there was not much of the Roman proconsul about him; he struck one more as a pimp, actually (or sexual encounter facilitator, as I suppose we should call him, now that all right-thinking people call prostitutes sex workers and prostitution sex work).

The failure of the production was certainly not one of effort. On the contrary, it was both sumptuous and meticulous. But this made it worse rather than better. Mere carelessness and inattention to detail would not have been so bad. The failure of taste was so gross and obvious that it could not merely have been an individual phenomenon, but a social one: not of many people, perhaps, but of an important and influential section of society. Thanks to it, you must abjure opera or endure orgies and/or fascist uniforms.

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